Breakthrough Infections: Don’t Doubt On Vaccine’s Efficacy
The rise of breakthrough infections, or infections after getting fully vaccinated, has raised concerns about the efficacy of Covid vaccines. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 10 thousand breakthrough infections were reported between the end of April to the end of May. Similarly, between January 1 and early August, the total number of breakthrough infections in the United States is nearly 200 thousand.
An even more concerning picture comes from Israel, one of the fastest countries to vaccinate the majority of its population. 78% of the eligible population from over 12 years of age have already got the required number of doses. Pfizer was the vaccine administered to most individuals. However, it is being ravaged by one of the highest infection rates in the world. Nearly 650 cases test positive per million of the population, most of them aged 60 years old or above. Among these cases, more than half are fully vaccinated people, which shows that vaccines do not offer complete protection. Therefore, Israel has already put its plans in place to administer booster doses for people aged 60 years and older.
Delta Variant: The Major Culprit
The Delta variant, first identified in India in December of 2020, has been the major variant of concern in the world. It has already spread to more than 130 countries and is the predominant strain in the United States and most European countries. According to the CDC, a 7-day moving average in late June showed 12,000 cases in the United States, which had tremendously increased to 60,000 by the end of July.
According to the World Health Organization, it is the most transmissible variant of coronavirus, which was first discovered in Wuhan at the end of 2019. Compared to the original strain, it is two times more transmissible. Similarly, it is 50% more transmissible than the alpha variant, which was first discovered in the U.K. Even fully vaccinated people can easily transmit it to other people. Furthermore, a study report from China shows that the viral load due to this variant can be nearly 10 thousand times more than others. Likewise, it can also cause more severe forms of illness in infected people compared to the previously discovered variants.
Vaccines Are Not Failing
One of the major concerns with breakthrough infections is that it has got people doubting the efficacy of Covid vaccines. Such infections, although normal, are very rare when we look at the bigger picture. Severe illnesses and hospitalizations are even rarer. For example, as per the reports received by the CDC until July 19, there were only 6000 cases of Covid-related illnesses and deaths. Bear in mind that at the time of receiving this report, there were already 160 million fully vaccinated people in the United States. This means that less than 0.004 percent of the fully vaccinated people had suffered a severe illness or died from the virus.
On the other hand, unvaccinated people make up the major share of new Delta variant infections. Most of the hospitalizations and deaths also occur in this segment. For example, in the state of Washington in the United States, more than 94% of hospitalized patients were unvaccinated. Another thing of concern is that these newly rising cases are once again challenging the capacity of available healthcare services. Hospitals are running at full occupancy and there is an acute shortage of beds and workers.
Efficacy against the virus also depends on the vaccine. Double dose shots such as Pfizer and Moderna seem to have higher efficacy than a single dose shot such as the J & J Janssen.
Breakthrough Infections: Different from Vaccine Side Effects
The symptoms of breakthrough infections are similar to the other coronavirus variants. Although a significant number of people can remain asymptomatic, those with symptoms may experience headaches and runny noses. Asymptomatic people can still unknowingly transmit the virus, which can mean danger for unvaccinated people who remain in contact.
One of the key things to keep in mind is that we may confuse breakthrough infections with the side effects of vaccines. Vaccine side effects typically occur within a couple of days after vaccination and die down within 2 to 3 days. As a result of side effects, you may feel local pain around the area of the injection. Typically, they occur the next day from your vaccination. Likewise, you might experience body fatigue and some kind of fever, and muscle and joint pains. On the other hand, vaccine side effects do not cause loss of taste and smell, which is a contrasting symptom of the virus.
Preventing Breakthrough Infections
Now that we know vaccines do not offer 100% protection, we must be wary about avoiding breakthrough infections. In a smaller fragment of the population, breakthrough infections can turn deadly, especially for old-aged and immunosuppressed people. Therefore, you must always be careful and listen to the advice from the experts. CDC has already reviewed its masking guidelines and is asking people to wear a mask in public indoor spaces. Similarly, if you live with vulnerable people, masking can be effective to prevent transmission. Teachers and staff in schools should also wear a mask regardless of their vaccination status.
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In this blog, we came across the news of rising breakthrough infections in various countries of the world. Likewise, we studied the spread of the Delta variant and how it is becoming a major concern for the global community. We see that the Delta variant is more contagious and can cause more severe illness than the previously discovered variants. Similarly, we looked at some of the statistics that prove the effectiveness of vaccines in preventing hospitalizations and deaths. Furthermore, we differentiated between breakthrough infections and the side effects of vaccines. Finally, we reviewed the update on masking guidelines and learned how masking is important in public settings and protecting the vulnerable.
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